The Outsiders Themes and Analysis

Throughout ‘The Outsiders,’ Hinton engages with very important themes, showcases some interesting symbols, and uses great examples of figurative language.

There are many themes that can be found in the novel, The Outsiders. However, we are going to explore only empathy, divided communities, preserving childhood innocence, self-sacrifice and honor, and individual identity.

The Outsiders Themes and Analysis


The Outsiders Themes

Divided communities

Divided communities is a major theme of the novel as the story revolves around two major conflicts, which are- the conflict between the Socs and greasers, and the conflict between Ponyboy and his brother Darry in the Curtis family.

In the conflict between the gangs, the novel shows how the two groups focus on their frivolous differences  – they dress differently, socialize differently, and hang out with different girls, and how all this leads to hate and violence. However, the story also shows how the two groups depend on their conflict for their continual existence. For example, the greasers live by a motto to “stick together” against the Socs. This means that without the conflict, the individual members of the two gangs might go their own way.

The other divided community in the story can be found in Ponyboy’s immediate family. The conflict between Darry and Ponyboy is aggravated by misunderstanding, just like that of Socs and Greasers. Just like the two gangs are unable to see past their superficial differences to their deeper similarities, Darry and Ponyboy’s limited views make them misunderstand each other’s actions. Ponyboy sees his brother’s desperate attempt to deliver him from the poverty and strife of their neighborhood as antagonism, while Darry sees Ponyboy’s quest to escape his conflict-ridden existence as irresponsibility and lack of consideration.

Empathy

The ability to see things through other people’s perspectives (empathy) is predominant in the resolution of both conflicts in The Outsiders. The two gangs are engrossed with the appearance and class status of their rivals which underscores the superficiality of their mutual hostility. Cherry tried to draw empathy from Ponyboy at the drive-in when she insisted that “things are rough all over,” and encouraged Ponyboy to see Socs as individuals. Randy added more strength to the argument when he told Ponyboy about Bob’s troubled life, making him have compassion for Socs as an individual. Sodapop helps Ponyboy recognize that Darry’s high expectations for him are a result of love.

Preserving Childhood Innocence

The book reveals the importance of preserving hope, open-mindedness, and appreciation of beauty that are typical of childhood. Ponyboy has traits that distinguish him from others in the gang, for instance, his love of sunrises and sunsets, his daydreams about the country, and his rescue of the children from the burning church. These traits show that Ponyboy, unlike the other boys, still has preserved some of his childhood innocence and allows him to see beyond the superficial hatred between the Socs and greasers.

Dally’s rough childhood made him tough and fearsome, and he seems not to care about anything though he has a soft spot for Johnny. Johnny represents the hope that Dally has lost, and Dally strives to protect Johnny from the forces that threaten to pull him into the cycle of violence that has enveloped Dally. Johnny’s dying words touch on this theme by referencing the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

The poem’s message that all beautiful things fade as time passes forces the two boys to realize that they can’t hide from the realities of growing up. ‘Stay gold’, Johnny’s dying words for Ponyboy and the greasers, is also a call for them to preserve the optimism, innocence, and hope of childhood no matter what they see in the world.

Self-sacrifice and Honour

Despite the greasers’ reputation as heartless young criminals, they live by a specific and honorable code of friendship, and there are many instances in which gang and family members make selfless choices. As an example, Darry relinquished a college scholarship so he can work a full-time manual labor job to support his younger brothers. Dally, who seems apathetic, shows great loyalty to and compassion for his friends and for strangers in need. He helps Johnny and Ponyboy run away to Windrixville after Bob’s stabbing and plays a major role in the rescue of kids from the church fire. 

Individual Identity

Ponyboy, the protagonist, is a committed member of the greasers though he knows that some of his personality traits make him different from others. The greasers provide him with too great of a sense of strength and safety, and he doesn’t want to consider life outside of it. But he thought deeply about this life and what he wants to do after Bob’s death.

Again, his conversations with Johnny, Cherry, and Randy make him reflect on the road his life is taking. He begins to question the reasons for the constant fights between Socs and greasers, and he thinks hard before joining his gang to participate in the rumble. His willingness to strike friendships with the Socs indicates the development of a distinct personal identity.

Bridging social classes

The Outsiders tells the story of the tension between two rival gangs, the working-class greasers and the upper-class Socs. It finally showed that the two groups have more in common in spite of the inequalities between them. The focus of the novel is on social class issues, exemplified by confrontations between the lower-class greasers and the upper-class Socs.

Ponyboy didn’t have to do anything to provoke the Socs into ganging upon him. It’s not a personal or unusual attack as the Socs regularly beat up greasers, and the greasers retaliate. Ponyboy is astonished to find out that he shares similar ideas with Cherry. This shows readers that the Socs are not all the same, and also, there is a common bond across the social classes. The preexisting tensions between the gangs cause the Socs to want to punish Johnny and Ponyboy for associating with the Soc girls. Bob tries to force Ponyboy’s head underwater at the fountain, and Johnny stabs Bob.

Analysis of key moments in The Outsiders

  • One of the key moments of The Outsiders is the church fire. An abandoned church catches fire when Johnny and Ponyboy are out. On their way back, they saw the fire and together with Dally, they saved the kids that were in the scorching church. They all sustained injuries there, which later led to Johnny’s death.
  • Another key moment is when Dally dies. Dallas Winston died by robbing a convenience store after being all worked up about Johnny’s death and running from the police. Dally pulls out an unloaded gun and points it to the police, and the police shoot him, and he dies.
  • Another one is when Bob dies. When Johnny Cade stabs Bob, they went to Dally Winston for advice on what to do to avoid being caught by the government or Socs. Dally gives Ponyboy and Johnny some dry clothes, a gun, and fifty dollars. Dally also told them about an abandoned church on the hill in Windrixville where they can go and hide. He also promised to check up on them later.
  • The fight. The greasers and Socs take it out on each other and fight at a rumble, in a lot. There are two rules during a rumble: whoever leaves first, loses and you cannot use any type of weapon or “prop”. A Soc throws Pony to the ground, and Darry immediately says, “Pony, you all right?” The Socs left the rumble first, so the greasers one.
  • Johnny dies. Johnny Cade got some serious injuries after rescuing some kids from a church fire. He was rushed to the hospital, where his friends kept visiting him. After the rumble, Dally and Ponyboy go to the hospital to visit Johnny, as usual. Johnny was dying and said to Ponyboy, “Stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold.” Johnny died right after he told Ponyboy to stay gold.
  • Johnny Cade and Ponyboy Curtis, greasers, get jumped by five Socs at a park. Bob, a Soc, tries to drown Ponyboy in the fountain at the park. Johnny gets tackled by a Soc and flips out his switchblade, and stabs Bob with the blade.
  • The Greasers go to the drive-in, meeting a cheerleader that is a Soc. Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dally sit in plastic chairs at the drive-in. These two Socs girls, Cherry and Marcia, sit in front of the greasers and watch the movie. Dally disturbs the red-head cheerleader until she gets distracted from the movie and mad. Cherry turns around and yells at Dally to remove his feet from her chair.
  • Ponyboy Curtis Gets jumped. This was the first main event in the novel. Ponyboy Curtis, a greaser, gets jumped by some Socs on his way back from a movie. But his friends and brothers come to save him by fighting the Socs. 


Style, Tone, and Figurative Language in The Outsiders

Throughout the book, you will notice that Hinton is a character writer instead of an idea writer. That’s why the opening of the book is a very detailed introduction to each character such that by the end of the book, the reader knows each character in more detail. Again, the characters’ names are particularly descriptive. For example, Ponyboy depicts an image of a youth becoming a cowboy; Sodapop shows a bubbly personality, while Dallas Winston creates the image of the combination of a Texas city and a famous cigarette brand. 

The importance of setting in this book cannot be overemphasized as it is through their environment that the main characters are defined. Hinton used her town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the setting of this book, even though she never refers to the city by name. The figurative language used in The Outsiders is mostly metaphors and personification.

Analysis of the Symbols

Sunsets and Sunrises

In the book, sunrise and sunset depict the beauty and goodness in the world, especially after Johnny compares the gold in the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” to the gold of the sunrises and sunsets Ponyboy enjoys. Sunset also represents the humanity of all people, regardless of the gang to which they belong. When Cherry and Ponyboy were first discussing at the drive-in, they found out that they share similar interests in the enjoyment of the same sunset from their sides of town.

Greaser Hair

The symbol of the greasers, both to themselves and to others, is their long, slick hair gang. When Ponyboy and Johnny cut and dyed their hair when they ran away to hide after Bob’s death,  they were taking a symbolic step outside the gang. This made Ponyboy feel less secure but also gained him a bit of room to develop his individuality.

The Blue Mustang

The blue Mustang is a symbol that shows two things: the wealth of the Socs and the danger posed to the greasers. Anytime Ponyboy or any other greaser spots the Mustang, he knows trouble is coming. Later in the novel, Ponyboy comes to understand and feel compassion for the Socs, and the Mustang loses some of its power to intimidate.

FAQs

How does Two-Bit describe the Socs?

Two-Bit Matthews describes the upper-class gang known as Socs as those that tend to gang up on one or two people and also fight among themselves. This is unlike the lower-class gang, the Greasers who usually stick together, and when two members do get into an argument.

How are greasers and Socs different besides money?

Besides money, there are many differences between the socs and the greasers. The greasers have long, greasy hair, while the Socs generally have shorter hair. The greasers are poor and live on the bad side or east of town, unlike the socs who live on the good side or the west side of town.

Which character is Ponyboy’s oldest brother that takes care of him?

The character is a 20-year-old strong, athletic greaser called Darry. When Ponyboy’s parents die in a car accident, his oldest brother, Darrel Curtis, also known as “Darry,” quit school and passed on a scholarship to take care of his brothers. He works two jobs in order to meet the responsibility at home.

Is Two-Bit mean in The Outsiders?

Keith “Two-Bit” Mathews is 18 and a half, and still a Junior in high school, and also a supporting character in the book ‘The Outsiders’. He is popularly called by his nickname is called Two-Bit because he never shuts his mouth and always has to add in his “two bits”. He is not mean but is rather a fun-loving person who loves to tell jokes.

What does Two-Bit’s switchblade symbolize?

Two-Bit Matthew’s switchblade is his possession of inestimable value. He treasures it so highly because of all that it represents to him. The switchblade represents the disregard for authority for which greasers traditionally pride themselves in many ways. Firstly, the blade is stolen; secondly, it gives a sense of individual power to the owner.

About Ugo Juliet
Ugo Juliet is a passionate lover of books. For over 10 years, she has written books and articles for various organizations. She continues with her passion for literature as an expert analyst on Book Analysis.
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